I need to recap our trip! Late last month, our family had the incredible opportunity to fly to tropical northern Queensland for a weeklong family vacation. I mentioned previously that this probably wasn’t the smartest move for us financially, but the decision brought about incredible beauty thanks to my son’s little fundraiser. Well, when the time actually came to embark on our adventure, we were excited and ready!
First, to catch up—the week following Drew’s fundraiser was great. He gave a follow-up radio interview, which, in my completely unbiased opinion, was super adorable. School wrapped up that Friday for a 2 ½ week break and on Saturday, Drew and Zach ran in their first 1k race with me, while Steve did a 5k. It was a beautiful course, right on the bay, in the evening, and it was an all-around fun day, and a great start to the first time we were ALL actually off together for the school holiday break since our trip to the U.S. last year.
On one of the days we squeezed in a fun little family hike and picnic nearby and otherwise, just enjoyed time to relax, catch up with some friends and prepare.
We were fortunate to have a wonderful friend drive us to and pick us up from the airport, so on Wednesday morning, the 24th of September, we were off! It sounds silly, but one of the purposes of this trip, for me at least, was to show the boys that you can fly in an airplane and arrive at your destination quite quickly; air travel does not necessarily involve saying good-bye to the outside world for 30 hours or so. And I’m glad we did! At the Brisbane airport, Zach asked, “Mommy, will it be nights until we get there?” I replied, “Zach, we will be there by dinnertime!”
Upon landing in Cairns, after the two-hour flight, I told Drew, “Ok, now we’re at this airport for 4 hours and then we get on another plane for 15 hours.” He said, “15 hours?!” I said, “Ha-ha! Nope! We’re here! We’re done! That’s it.” We headed to our little apartment, settled in, shopped for our meals for the next few days and even fit in a short nighttime swim.
The next morning, we got up and out (Zach asked—“Why do we only have one choice of cereal? We’re supposed to have 3!” The child LOVES routine….) and took a Sky Rail ride up over the rainforest, stopping off a few times for short walks and overlooks before arriving in an adorable hilltop rainforest town called Kuranda. We wandered around there awhile, browsing the markets and village and when we were finished, we boarded a scenic railway train for the trip back down into Cairns. Drew had been very excited for one of the hairpin turns the train would make, but the poor boys had been so excited and constantly moving, that the lull of the moving train just sent them to sleep. It was a great day capped off by a quiet dinner in our apartment.
The next day was THE big day! We had to leave by 7:15 that Friday morning to get over to the pier to catch our boat out to Fitzroy Island, a gorgeous tropical island right on the Great Barrier Reef. When we arrived, we took some time to figure out the day’s plan and I found two brochure checklists to give Drew—one on Marine Life and the other on Island Life. What a great find! He spent hours both before and after snorkeling marking which animals he wanted to see, then what he did see. He still has them both and was even using them to type each fish into Google to get an image of it and decide if he saw it or not.
We then boarded another boat, this time with a glass bottom, to head out and see some of this Reef! Our skipper gave us facts along the way and when he asked questions, our little Science Dude, shoots up his hand like he’s in school “Oohoohoohh!” The question was “What’s the difference between a manta ray and a stingray?” The skipper was surprised to see a little guy so excited to answer, and started to answer himself before he stopped and let him. “A manta ray is larger, and doesn’t have a tail with a stinging barb.” You are correct, sir!
We didn’t see much through the glass, but we eventually stopped and were all able to get off and snorkel. Little Drew was so excited and stayed out in the water the entire time. He was absolutely thrilled with all we saw, including a green sea turtle snacking on some plants. Zach kept getting water in his mask and wasn’t much of a fan of snorkeling, but a lovely Frenchman let us borrow a kickboard he’d rented from the dive shop that had a clear viewing section at the top. It allowed me to drag Zach around while he laid on it and looked down at the fish. Lazy boy loved that idea! And of course, for everything anyone else saw, Zach saw 10 of them! 😉
After that trip, we enjoyed a picnic lunch and some relaxing meandering before snorkeling again, this time right off the beach. Again, it was gorgeous! And again, we couldn’t get Drew out of the water. It filled our hearts. It truly was a beautiful day in paradise.
We didn’t get home that evening until 6:30 and after hastily making an easy dinner, we got to bed. Tired out!
The next day, Saturday, we took it a bit easier. The boys and I relaxed at the hotel after a quick morning swim (I’d jogged first along the Esplanade through Cairns, which ran right along the shore—fantastic!) while Steve picked up our rental car for the remainder of the trip. We then leisurely headed down to his cousins’ house, south of Cairns. They were delightful people and made us a big lunch that afternoon and yummy dinners and breakfasts over the two days we stayed with them.
That afternoon we went out exploring a bit and wandered along the stunningly gorgeous Mission Beach. We then drove around a bit and Steve really wanted us all to do a short hike. We found a quiet picnic area with a sign for a 10-minute Children’s Walk and decided to do that. Along the way we had been learning a lot and seeing several signs about cassowaries and hoped to see one, in a safe way, because they sounded scary….
It was about 5:30 in the evening and I’d heard you are more likely to see them (as with most animals) at that time of day, so I was already a bit apprehensive. But a 10-minute walk…..what could go wrong? We hit the trail and I felt like I had walked into a scene from Jurassic Park. The area was called “Licuala,” after the rare palm that grows there. The plant was beautiful, but looked like it would have grown where dinosaurs lived. The foliage was VERY dense, and it seemed to get darker quickly as we got farther along the trail.
Suddenly, Steve heard some rustling and stopped us. About 200 meters down the trail, a cassowary stepped out of the bush! I instinctively grabbed my camera to get a photo before it crossed the trail out of sight again. Well, it didn’t. It turned towards us! Then it started walking towards us! Steve calmly and loudly told us to remain calm and begin backing up. We did and the giant dinosaur-bird kept walking towards us. We kept backing up and gradually picked up speed. So did the cassowary! I don’t know that I will ever get rid of the vision in my head that I can see so clearly when I close my eyes, of a giant, dinosaur-looking bird with a blue head and a crest on the top, taller than me, walking on two legs (no arms! So weird!), its beady eyes looking straight into mine and its beak pointing at me, and then its giant bird feet lifting up higher as it started trotting!! I started babbling like an insane person. We’d gotten the kids behind us, between us and the bird, and I just kept saying, over and over, “It’s ok. We’re not going to hurt you. Don’t touch my babies!” It looked like it understood me! But I couldn’t tell if it agreed or not!
Thankfully, we had only gotten a couple hundred meters down the trail to begin with, so our backing up finally got us back into the small, deserted, dirt parking area. We went the direction of our car and dinosaur-bird went in a different direction. Phew!
I asked Steve if he felt safe taking a photo and he said he did and went back towards it to get one. That’s when Drew finally started crying—“Daddy! Come back!” I have to say how proud I am of my boys. I cannot believe that Drew at least didn’t scream and start running when that thing first walked in our direction. They stayed calm and followed our lead and I am so glad this story ended the way it did!
As we drove back to the house, I cranked up some loud, upbeat music and I could see the tension draining from Drew’s face as he sang. He even closed his eyes and it was clear he was just relishing life at that moment. God love him—the kid just “gets it.”
Steve’s cousins laughed at us that evening. They figured either people feed the cassowary and it was looking for food from us, or it was just headed back to its roost for the evening and bumped into a weird foursome as it made its way. Either way, it traumatized me for the remainder of the trip. I had nightmares that evening (partially because they told me stories of how they’re the only birds known to kill humans and have ripped people apart before with their clawed feet!!), and since, we were now heading into crocodile-country, basically refused to go outside after dark or early in the mornings for the remainder of the trip. Can you blame me?!
Sunday we had another slower day. We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast with the family and then they took us exploring their land and the nearby sugar cane farms. Sugar cane is the primary crop in the area. Steve’s cousin drives a train that brings the harvested cane to the sugar mill for processing. We visited the outside of the mill and watched the trains unload the cane. Then we made a short stop to see the Big Gumboot in Tully. For whatever reason, Australian tourist towns like to have a “Big” something. There is a Big Pineapple, a Big Avocado, a Big Prawn, etc. The Big Gumboot is to support Tully’s claim to fame as the town with the most rain in Australia.
We then split off on our own to enjoy a small town pub lunch. I saw an article once written by a young American student who studied in Australia for a year and said American restaurants could learn from Australian restaurants about providing healthy, fresh options. She was clearly not from Boulder and at the time I read her article, I was shocked, because I have been disgusted by children’s menus in this area and so few options in several restaurants that do not involve meat and/or breading. However, this meal reminded me that she is actually correct. Although the menu is small—this was a tiny town, basically in the middle of nowhere, one pub (restaurant), one shop and that’s it—there was one choice of salad and it included roasted pumpkin (squash), fresh avocado and sunflower seeds and was delicious! I realized that if I were to go to a restaurant in the middle of the Midwest or Deep South, with nothing else around, the salad would likely be either a basic green salad, not very enticing, or a fatty Caesar salad. To be able to get this quality of food in the middle of nowhere is a definite treat.
By this time, poor Drew was so tired that he could not get through his lunch. I have not seen him that tired in a long time! We drove around and the boys napped and then we stopped next to a river full of local kids swimming. It was great! Drew followed the big kids who were jumping off the road bridge across the river into the deeper water, while Zach stayed safely with me, cheering. The boys loved it! Easy entertainment.
We then killed some time wandering around a pretty nothing tourist attraction before heading back to the house for a relaxing evening. Once again, Drew was so tired; he started crying just before dinner and couldn’t stop. Instead he fell asleep—for the night. Bless his heart. He goes so hard and then crashes so hard.
After a relaxing Monday morning, we drove off, heading back north of Cairns again, saying good-bye to the sweet family we stayed with. We were advised to visit another family member working at a warehouse where sugar is stored before being exported. It was quite interesting watching the trucks dump their loads of sugar and seeing the giant sugar mountain in storage.
We took it easy the rest of the day, driving around and exploring a couple beach towns before checking into our final apartment and going out to dinner—such a treat! We had a great evening together.
Tuesday was our final full day and our final BIG day. We headed off to a National Park called Mossman Gorge. It was a beautiful, rocky, forested area with creeks flowing through big boulders (reminded me of Colorado in a way). We started a short hike and Drew began to cry and refused to go. He’d seen cassowary signs again and was scared to come across one again on a trail. I told him how I’ve been enjoying hiking in the woods since I was a young girl; it’s one of the only ways to see the most beautiful parts of the world, and I was scared, too (I was!), but determined not to let one giant-dinosaur-bird keep me out of the woods! I told him that when I used to hike in areas where grizzly bears lived, we would sing and make lots of noise on the trails to make sure the animals knew we were there.
Zach readily started singing with me (He didn’t know what the fuss was all about. At the time of the cassowary incident, once we were back in the car, he’d said, “That was cool! I want to see 10 cassowaries!” Spoken like a 4-year-old….). Drew nervously held Steve’s hand and walked ahead with him. A few songs in, he shyly came back to me with his eyes shining with trust and bravery, slipped his hand in mine and started singing. I almost cried! Not much later, he was running around, exploring everything, back to his usual enthusiastic self. It was one of those experiences that made it hit home how much I love parenting, challenges and all. The reality that we get to share life with these beautiful little people and learn and grow with them is a true miracle.
After our successful hike we drove further north and hopped on a boat to cruise down the Daintree River looking for crocodiles. We saw two, one baby and one big one. The overall cruise was fantastic, as our skipper taught us so much about the crocodiles, which are truly amazing animals, and we also saw a brown tree snake, numerous unique birds and more of our absolute favorite blue Ulysses butterfly—gorgeous, sparkling brilliant blue creatures flitting amongst the trees.
We enjoyed a relaxing final night in our apartment. Steve and I both jogged the next morning, attempting to run barefoot, due to a truly interesting book we’ve both recently read called “Born to Run.” I am better in the mornings, so took my turn first. It was a gray day and I was still a wimpy scaredy cat that couldn’t handle being out so early with few people around, near wooded creek areas near the coast and seeing crocodile warning signs. I skittered around nervously for a bit on sore feet and finally found an open stretch of beach with lots of people around and jogged a few kilometers.
After packing up, we visited a mellow “locals” beach in Cairns, where the boys swam, but I refused because the water was sandy and murky and there were signs around about all the different lethal jellyfish. Such a big talker about bravery in front of my kids! Honestly, when it comes to land and water, I am quite comfortable on one and a completely misplaced alien in the other! We enjoyed a picnic lunch and then swam in the free pool in the center of town, which was in a beautiful spot. Then we left for the airport and that was it—what a fantastic trip!
I love that although the kids still have their tantrums and issues traveling, with each trip they are becoming more fun and easier to travel with. We all get crabby and have our moments, but going on adventures with our boys at these ages is quite fun! They love being with us, exploring and seeing new things. It’s great! So what if we’re a bit low on cash now; we just made memories to last our lifetimes.
Since we’ve been back, the boys began their final terms of school—Drew’s last couple months in first grade and Zach’s last in preschool, meaning my last time enjoying three days with him each week before he begins full time school next year. Waahhh! I’ve been quite sappy about my babies growing up so fast. Drew lost tooth #7 last week and because of a student-free day at his school this week, he and I got to enjoy a gorgeous one on one day together. I think we both really cherished that time—just fantastic and more and more rare these days.
Hooray for a Mommy and Drew Day![/caption]
He also has been experimenting with which outside school activity he’d like to do this term, in addition to yoga with me and swimming lessons. He checked out a fantastic program called Little Nippers, where kids aged 6-17 learn ocean survival and swimming skills and how to rescue others, in the hopes that they become lifeguards one day. I learned that ALL Australian coast lifeguards are volunteers—fascinating! Although I don’t fully understand, with such big government, why doesn’t it fund paid lifeguards…?? The program seems great, but more interesting when he’s at least 10 years old, we think.
Both boys also tried out another fascinating program called Little Athletics, where kids aged 3-17 meet weekly to practice track and field events. They loved it! There are at least 100 kids and most of the activities are run by parent volunteers. There is no actual coaching, but it’s a great introduction to sprints, hurdles, jumps, throws, etc. They have both signed up for that, which will be a fun adventure. I can’t think of any similar program in the States, to introduce kids to track and field at such young ages, and Steve agreed and wondered why Australia isn’t better in competitions on the world stage in these events. We decided it’s because of high school—in the States, most school have their own track and a dedicated track and field team with paid coaches, practicing at least five days a week, with competitions almost weekly during the season. Here, this program is about it, with just a few additional ways to get more training and coaching as kids get older, partly dependent on where they go to school. That was our answer at least….not sure if we’re right.
I am teaching SEVEN yoga classes per week, a huge increase for me. While I have been a bit panicked this month about low numbers in my classes, they seem to be picking up nicely these past couple weeks, and we have high hopes for this new venture being financially viable and fulfilling one of my passions at the same time—wow, how lucky if we can do that in our lives!